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Netscape marries business plans

The firm announces new features for its Netcenter portal that tie into its enterprise software business.

NEW YORK--Finally implementing a strategy articulated 13 months ago, Netscape Communications today announced new features for its Netcenter portal that tie into the company's enterprise software business.

The features include a new service called "Custom Netcenter," with which corporations, ISPs, and individuals can create custom portals that integrate Netcenter offerings with Netscape's server software.

Using Netcenter's content and My Netscape personalization technology, companies can create customized start pages for employees and integrate their proprietary intranet content.

Buying other companies will fit into the Netcenter strategy as well, Eckart Walther, group product manager at Netcenter, disclosed today.

"We are less likely to look at content companies and more likely to look at services," Walther said in an interview, noting that rivals Yahoo and Excite are actively buying companies. He declined to say when acquisitions might be announced.

In July, Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen said Netscape is likely to acquire at least one e-commerce firm on the enterprise software side, but no such acquisitions have been announced. Netscape has made two sizable acquisitions, Collabra Software and Kiva Software, and several smaller ones.

"1998 was about few customer portals; we think 1999 is going to be about thousands of specialized portals, which will provide expanded services and benefits of all kinds for businesses and consumers," said Netscape chief executive Jim Barksdale during his keynote address today at Fall Internet World.

This development will allow Netscape to provide enterprises, ISPs, OEMs, and government and educational institutions with the tools and services they need to customize their users' Internet experiences.

The move is clearly aimed at marrying the three sides of Netscape's business: its browser software, its portal effort, and its enterprise business. But whether the market needs this product is unclear.

"We think our destiny is wrapped up somehow or another in the coming together of all three of these efforts," added Barksdale.

Custom Netcenter is part of what Netscape calls Project Turbo, its push to become the fastest-growing Internet portal. The new feature will go into beta testing in mid-November and launch by year's end, and Netscape hopes it will advance its goal of becoming the world's leading portal site by the year 2000.

Today's announcement represents a new stage of Netcenter's strategy, which originally targeted business users. But Netscape faces new competition in that space with yesterday's announcement from Network Associates that it will launch a portal next month called McAfee Online that is targeted to PC users.

Netscape also announced SmartDownload, a software utility that makes it easier for consumers to download software from the Net. It uses a new file format, codeveloped with Software Builders International, dubbed Internet Download Protocol. Netscape intends to submit the protocol to the Internet Engineering Task Force as a proposed standard.

SmartDownload's "Resume" feature lets users complete downloads even if they are temporarily disconnected from a network or ISP. It also includes an "InfoBrowser" feature that will provide on-screen tutorials and Netcenter content. SmartDownload is slated to be released with Netscape Communicator 4.5 in early November and also will be compatible with Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.

News.com's Sandeep Junnarkar contributed to this report.